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So, what went wrong?


There are lots of good things about modern Meccano. Just the fact that it exists is one of them. And there are new and interesting parts being made. All the same, the "hobby" of Meccano has declined very seriously and has very few new young members. Why is this? What happened?

There's been lots of discussion about this.  But strangely enough, Meccano themselves have defined the issues &ndash in their catalogue of April 1949.  There is a good introduction to Meccano in this catalogue, running to four pages of the small booklet.  Interestingly, almost all of the key points described in this catalogue have been ignored by the various Meccano companies for a very long time.

All the quotes given below are from these four small pages in the Meccano catalogue.

The outfits and parts

Meccano is made in eleven different outfits ranging from No.0, the smallest, to No.10, the largest.  These outfits are linked together by Accessory or "A" outfits, which enable you to pass from one Outfit to the next larger without unnecessary duplication of parts.  None of your original parts is wasted; you do not have to buy any parts twice over.  
This is one of the key issues in my mind.  As we all know, there is no link from one outfit to the next nowadays.  There are several different 'series' in existence, mostly with completely different colour schemes, none bearing any relationship to the next.  This confusion at the retail shelf is a massive turn-off for the buyer and seems designed to reduce sales.  The only numbered series of outfits (10, 20, 30, 40, 50) have no linking accessory outfits, meaning that there is no encouragement for the buyer to come back and get more.  This wouldn't be quite as bad if the colours matched each other, as then at least larger models could be built without them looking like a dog's breakfast.
In addition, most of the Meccano parts can be bought separately, so that you can increase your stock of any particular part, or replace parts you have lost.  
The expense of stocking replacement parts is often quoted as the reason for the spare parts no longer being available, but this sounds like rubbish.  The parts were never cheap in the first place.  Toy shops are rarely reluctant to sell even low-priced items, as they bring in customers.  And, crucially, the Meccano spare parts industry was one driven by the kids themselves, who would save up to go buying the parts they wanted.

Obviously, the spare parts industry nowadays should be available online, and in fact could be done like this exclusively (bypassing the objections about toy shops altogether).  Now, it is technically possible to buy certain spare parts online at the moment, but not directly from a Meccano website, and the supply of parts is often a problem.  It appears that Meccano isn't as good at supplying the online distributors as they might be.

The parts in their shining colours are fascinating to look at and to handle. They are made of metal of the finest quality.  
Well, isn't it inevitable there will be some plastic parts, given the price of metal? Not necessarily, I would argue. Even during some of the world's worst periods of metal shortage, two world wars and the Korean war, Meccano managed to make the parts they wanted – with blackening or other substitute finishes. All of these parts last a great deal longer than plastic ones. The continuing value of Meccano is that even parts 100 years old are still just as good as they were when they were made, provided they have been kept reasonably dry. Cost-effective finishes such as anodising and blackening could be used to make exceptionally durable parts today.

Manuals and models

...it is not necessary to begin your Meccano career with the smallest Outfits...  The Book of Instructions for each Outfit includes these pages of models for smaller Outfits.  
With current Meccano outfits, only the smallest outfits contain simple introductory models.  The Mechanical Workshop, for example, contains instructions for several quite ambitious models, tricky even for experienced Meccano model builders.  An eight- or nine-year-old has almost no chance. By comparison, even the very largest of all outfits up to the end of the Binns Road period contained instructions for a small selection of very simple models, gradually moving to larger and more complex models.  The pre-war instruction manuals contain models that even four-year-olds can build successfully.
When you have built all the models shown, or as many of them as takes your fancy, try your hand at rebuilding one or two of them with small alterations that will readily occur to you.  
Many of the outfits (for example, the tuning cars) have almost no alternative models, or at least not enough parts that much variation can be achieved.  Recently, a Meccano enthusiast built a ball-rolling machine from the contents of the modern ferris wheel set.  It was heralded as an achievement, and many fellow enthusiasts copied it eagerly.  The fact that one interesting and complex alternative model could be built from the contents of a set should hardly be a surprise!
Each Book of Instructions contains also an illustrated list of all the Meccano parts so that you can readily identify them.  
At best, each Meccano outfit now contains pictures and quantities of each part supplied in that outfit.  Most of them are not even described (presumably to save money in translations?) There is almost no record of the various Meccano parts that are currently available.  Oscar Felguieras is maintaining a list of the current parts lists, but it is quite a job.  Colour schemes and variations in supply from one country to the next makes is almost impossible to know what parts are available, and certainly there is no information from Meccano about what parts can be purchased.
Even the smallest Outfits enable you to build a variety of models that work on exactly the same principles as the originals. With the larger Outfits you can build machines and engines of all kinds, with their working details reproduced accurately in miniature. Steam engines with cylinders, pistons and valve gear; motor cars with steering mechanism, gear-boxes and differential; machine tools such as lathes that will actually cut wood or wax; cranes that lift, luff, swivel and travel along; lift and opening bridges – all these and many other fascinating machines and structures can be built...  
With the possible exception of the Mechanical Workshop, there is no Meccano outfit that can build anything like this range of models. Most can build only one or two types, and even the multi-model outfits contain strange varieties of cranes that have no obvious connection to the real world. The idea of a single outfit, such as the 1950's outfits 6, 7, 8, or 9, that have a reasonable range of parts and can build a wide range of models depending on the choice of the builder, has disappeared.

I'd love to hear your comments on the above... please feel free to add them below...


Total number of messages on this page: 18.  This is page 2 of 3.   Previous  Next

Mr goats      (at 2:42am, Sat 30th Aug, 14)

D Hedgley - no it's not just another 'when I was a boy' story - as I'm a young man and agree whole heartedly that people in general of today lack patience and concentration. Not just children. Thanks for your insight.

G Elliott      (at 7:07pm, Fri 11th Apr, 14)

Agree entirely with you R Thornton. My 8 yr old was given multi model 50 set by generous grandparent. I was as excited as he was. Utterly soured now. Poor instructions and dreadful quality control. Each step of each model had problems- inaccessibility, bolts sitting proud. Expensive rubbish.

henry      (at 6:14pm, Wed 25th Jul, 12)

reassembling a clockwork motor that someone was too curious with probably fifty years ago, judging from the labels on the small leather suitcase.. packed with 1930s blue and gold,several pounds weight.... all the pieces seem to be there ! it was at the war and peace show,kent, of all places ! came across this site whilst looking for info..v useful ! well remember being given a set in the late 50s, and the annoying realisation that very few of the illustrated models could be built with parts supplied..so we attached a rocket to a small trolley and fired it off up the drive.it didnt reach the main road, no steering, but spectacular...

PJ      (at 7:25am, Wed 18th Jan, 12)

1. Baby boomers spoil their children - Meccano has only a fleeting appeal.
2. Gen X didn't experience their Meccano properly because their BB parents threw so many toys at them.
3. Gen Y receive palettes of plastic trash to keep them entertained while Gen X parents are busy working.
4. What the hell is Meccano?

As a borderline Gen X/Y...I fondly remember creating 'stuff' with my older siblings Meccano sets. It was a world unto itself and I would lose myself for days while designing and building the worlds next wonder. While reminiscing I was horrified to learn what Meccano (and to some extent, Lego) has become.

On a positive note, if anybody happens to have a substantial amount of money set aside there is an enormous and growing market for non-plastic-c*** childrens toys that require a modicum of thought to enjoy.

As pointed out in the article, the original Meccano direction had everything perfected to a 'tee'.

PS: I will bet a shiny dollar that 'vxcybyhqr' never got to play with Meccano :-)

Matt Ford      (at 10:32am, Thu 22nd Dec, 11)

Agree in all respects. I started with a Set 6 and a No 2 clockwork motor in the fifties, when I was eight. By the mid seventies I had bought several Set 9s (in the oak boxes), had a big store of other parts, and started building a half scale working Lamborghini Countach. Then it disappeared from the shops. A couple of years later the French-made Meccano was available in the shops here in Australia. I bought a set but was disgusted with it (plastic gearwheels, of all things, and an Allen key instead of a screwdriver!) I've still got the original stuff, one day I'll get it out of the shed and give it a good clean, when I have grandsons! Meanwhile I am doing with Lego what I used to do with Meccano; at least I can buy it in bulk. Although building a half size WORKING Lamborghini in plastic has a few challenges. Give me another 10 years.....

D Hedgley      (at 12:47pm, Mon 15th Aug, 11)

At 62 I'm in two minds as to wether Meccano has changed for the worst and therefore is without the attraction it once had, or wether youngsters have changed and are too distracted by modern computer orientated toys/games and no longer possess the patience, understanding or attention span to build anything 'complicated' that is not 'instant'. As an automation technical manager I use and embrace new equipment every month and so would hope my view does not represent a 'When I was a boy' attitude.
Doug, UK.

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